FAIRHOPE – The City of Fairhope and the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance will soon have a new vehicle to empower their tech entrepreneur community.
Both have entered into an agreement with the University of Alabama to create “Hatch,” a downtown business resource hub that will provide guidance and links to statewide resources for tech entrepreneurs in the early stages of forming a start-up company.
Hatch is part of “Technology Villages,” a program that assists communities in constructing and operating these storefront incubators to encourage growth of local technology-based businesses. It aims to foster entrepreneurial culture, develop a resource ecosystem and link University of Alabama resources with emerging tech companies across the state.
The partnership includes the City of Fairhope, whose funding and support of Hatch was approved Monday during the Fairhope City Council meeting, the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance, and BBVA, which has provided space for the Technology Village in its office suite in downtown Fairhope.
“Since Fairhope’s beginning, the city has attracted entrepreneurs and independent thinkers,” said Karin Wilson, Fairhope mayor. “Many cities spend considerable effort to develop ‘think tanks.’ Our City has always been a think tank – an innovation district. And Fairhope has always been citizen-driven. The people who live here – whether they moved here recently or are longtime residents – want to contribute their time, ideas and energy. That’s why we believe that Fairhope is the perfect place to launch Hatch and we are excited to support and partner with the University of Alabama and the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance on this initiative.”
“The City of Fairhope is pleased to partner with the University of Alabama and the Baldwin EDA to assist entrepreneurs in developing their ideas, products, and companies,” said Fairhope City Council President Jack Burrell. “We look forward to playing a significant role in helping these innovators achieve their dreams, and we believe there is no better place to reach their goal than in Fairhope.”
The program is unique in its structure, which operates less as a traditional incubator and more as a start-up resource hub where entrepreneurs receive real-time distance entrepreneurial learning with hands-on consulting support. The program will also link Fairhope and Baldwin County to intellectual property resources, seed financing and corporate partnering relationships.
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“I’m excited about the University’s strategic partnerships with Fairhope,” said Stuart R. Bell, UA president. “One of our primary goals as Alabama’s flagship is to increase activities that drive economic development for our state. As we reach out to emerging tech businesses in these areas, we look forward to helping small businesses thrive and bolster their local economies.”
The Technology Villages program is based on a five-year pilot conducted in five South Carolina cities by Clemson University under its Institute of Community and Economic Development. Programs in Bluffton and Rock Hill created an estimated 12 to 14 companies in the first 18 months and close to 70 new jobs with an estimated payroll of $2.8 million.
“This is a unique bend on economic development that will help roll in services and backhouse resources for smaller non-university communities, while doing it at a much lower cost,” said Rick Swatloski, director of UA’s Office for Technology Transfer. “I’m convinced every community has entrepreneurs, and the communities that can leverage and support them will move forward and grow their tax-bases.”
Lee Lawson, president and CEO of the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance, said growing entrepreneurial companies has always been a part of our strategy and Hatch now provides the place and hub to implement and deliver on that strategy. Hatch will be viable because of its channeled focus and partnership with UA, which he said is particularly important for a region that doesn’t have a heavy economic development footprint from a four-year university.
“Most successful entrepreneurial development centers have a four-year university cemented in the community to help support their entrepreneurial centers,” Lawson said. “Having the University of Alabama as our partner gives us the resources, brainpower and support we have been looking for a successful entrepreneurial development center make-up to grow these types of companies in our community.”
Lawson said Baldwin County has a cluster of software development firms, information technology companies and small Internet-based companies that are growing and evolving. He expects Hatch to give similar startups a boost, and also startups that will use hi-tech means to take low-tech products to market.
“BBVA Compass Bank is thrilled to partner with the Baldwin Economic Development Alliance and the City of Fairhope to launch Hatch, said Claire McCarron, senior vice president. “BBVA Compass has a long history of supporting entrepreneurial growth and development and providing space in our Fairhope facility is a strong example of that support. BBVA Compass looks forward to the success of Hatch and our continued partnership with all involved.”